Tuesday, 22 October 2013


Life is a learning process, a wise woman once said. Except maybe that woman hadn't learned from her mistakes, because a few years later she birthed my younger brother too ;). Still she is ace and wise enough and the principle of learning still stands. This year I have climbed the best I ever have, have climbed amazing and inspiring routes, and got into a state of confidence and happiness with my climbing that I always aspire to be in but that is often difficult to reach. I don't expect this state to last but want to be able to regain it, so I want to know:

"What can I learn from this?? How have I got into this state?? How could I replicate it in future??"

Pondering on this further I have come up with a neat 10 11 12 factors. I've tried to make these as clear as I can (for my own benefit!) but have found them a bit tricky to write about. Hopefully it makes sense...

[Edit: I have gone through my logbook for this year and tried to work out how each day fitted in with these factors or any others, and on reflection it's probably 90% due to Falling Practice......]

Falling practice:
By far the most important factor - in fact more important than ALL the other factors put together, so at least 50% of what helped me. Although I had done it sporadically during many previous wall sessions, this year was the first time that I have done it every time. Every wall session without exception I have done between 3 and 12 practise falls, some small, some larger, some very hard to do, some feeling very natural. Sometimes during the summer I was feeling in good climbing fitness but still wanted to visit the wall just to practise falls. Simply put, this worked. Slapping for a hold with a bolt below my feet on The One And Only at Brin Rock, looking at a cluster of okay gear on Neart Nan Gaidheal at Ardmair and knowing I'd be okay if I fell so climbing through the pump instead of backing off it.
In the future, keep doing falling practice ALL the time, building up if necessary.

Climbing quickly:
This pretty much derives from the confidence gained from falling practise. With the confidence to press on and risk falling off, I've started to climb quickly through difficult sections, through the pump, through poor holds and positions to gain respite. This has compensated for my natural stamina and lack of faffing and has been a positive approach that has almost invariably worked - often by ensuring I get committed which is something I can be inhibited about but once committed I can usually cope with the actual climbing.
In the future, try to keep aware how well this can work, although falling practice is a pre-requisite.

Uncluttered focus:
I.e. If I'm intending to do specific challenges, focusing on those challenges during a day or trip, and not getting distracted with mileage or other routes or anything other than the minimum necessary warming up. This differentiates between exploratory or mileage trips where I want to do plenty of routes, and challenge trips where I might only do one or two routes in a day. Narrowing my focus enabled me to have a clearer and more relaxed mind with more time to deal with the challenges presented.
In the future, be clear if I want mileage/exploration days or challenge days, and have a clear focus to avoid one impinging on the other.

Good conditions:
I climbed well at Easter and early spring when it was fresh but not too cold. I climbed rubbish in summer when it was either too hot, too humid, or sometimes too windy. I climbed well again in autumn when it had cooled down and was still dry. One day backing off Colder Than A Hooker's Heart at Creag Dubh because I was having to chalk on every hold, and another day where I almost committed without even downclimbing to warm up because the conditions felt so much better highlights the difference so well. It's not just about cold crisp grit conditions, it's about making sure for any route that the conditions are in my favour.
In the future, keep aware of conditions, use them if they are good and adapt to them if they are bad.

Regular climbing training:
You never fail on a route from being too strong nor too fit. A lot of the harder routes I've been doing are steep and strenuous or sustained, this is partly a Scottish speciality but probably more common to routes in the UK that I've previously anticipated. Feeling physically confident has made me more mentally confident, and it is something I can keep training.
In the future, keep training. I enjoy it anyway so it should be easy to stick to!

Well-established routes:
I.e. Sticking to boring old polished chalky Rockfax-picked trade routes. The advantage being that there is a chance of them being polished and chalky and having a clear line to follow and clean rock and accurate grades and descriptions, none of which are essential and I can have plenty of fun exploring the wilds of Scotland without those factors BUT when it's something at my limit it has been very beneficial to climb something logistically reliable.
In the future, be aware of how much difference route-reliability can be, and adapt my inspirations as appropriate.

Accepting the chance of failure:
This season I managed to accept failure, both as an overall possibility in trying harder routes, but also on certain routes themselves - a few of the best experiences I had were tackling routes I assumed would be too hard and I was sure I'd not get up, but I gave them a go anyway just to see what happened, and got up them move by move, section by section. As much as I hate failure it's been important to recognise it as a risk I take trying harder routes. Incidentally the end result has been failing on very few routes indeed...
In the future, remember that failure could definitely happen while trying harder routes and acknowledge it as a natural consequence.
Weathering out low periods:
To reiterate, I climbed well, I climbed rubbish, I climbed well again. The low period of climbing rubbish was nowhere near the worst I've climbed, but coming so abruptly after a period where I was climbing the best I've climbed, it was certainly one of the biggest drops in standard and confidence. Accepting this was hard and reverting to the then-undesired mileage climbing was also hard, but it gradually worked and enabled me to keep climbing enough to keep my hand in, to get necessary mileage, to slowly work my confidence back, and to even enjoy puntering along. Being patient with, and dealing with this period felt essential to coming out of it.
In the future, remember that I can come out of low periods and persit through them as best I can, using the mileage-focus that generally works.

General fitness and rest:
Good levels of general action and activity and whatever fitness training I can force my legs to do, along with sensible periods of rest before climbing days, and trying to get plenty of good sleep. Although singular challenging climbs tend to be relatively short periods of activity, background fitness training and good rest helped me feel more ready for them and more alert on the day.
In the future, keep active and keep well rested, try to keep doing this with the inspiration that it will benefit my climbing eventually.

Getting used to terrain:
Not so much the general trad climbing terrain, nor specific rock types - both aspects I've got enough experience to be ready for, but more particular types of climbing and types of angle. Both Scotland's typically merciless steepness and occasional and recent slabbiness, I have felt the benefit of either warming up to those sorts of angles, or even over-training the steep angles - i.e. getting very familiar with 20° overhanging training so 10° overhanging trad doesn't feel quite so shocking. The same could apply to hold size too.
In the future, recognise that some terrains can be specifically challenging and prepare appropriately.

Warming up steadily and/or on start of routes:
Two ways have worked for me. Either getting a long steady warm-up on a variety of routes (most suitable when there is plenty of time and plenty of logistically easy routes), and/or warming up and down on challenging routes themselves (most suitable with less time or less suitable warm-up choice) . The latter is a double edged sword: On the plus side it has made many routes more approachable due to getting used to the route, getting pumped, and placing some gear, and having a clearer focus. On the down side it doesn't feel as elegant and somewhat tarnishes the exploratory onsight journey. But it's sometimes appropriate, especially if the route starts with relatively easy ground to a rest.
In the future, remember the importance of warming up and choose the right approach (lots of easy routes vs. starts to harder routes) according to situation. 

Pacing, resting, placing gear or pressing on.
Part of a natural process of stacking the odds in my favour and doing the best I can on routes, but it has been often proven to be very beneficial when climbing close to or at my limit. Getting carried away means I can forget this and bull-in-a-china-shop my way up some routes but I need to keep paying attention to what I'm doing and make the most of my tactics.
In the future, stay smart and keep using the tactics I know that work well.

Hopefully that should be useful for future reference....

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